Well, this was going to be a busy week for me, so I worried about finding time to fill it with content for y’all. Turns out, this announcement will be enough for a whole week: Signature Sound has just released a press video breaking the news that charter member Doug Anderson is leaving to pursue a solo career. His last concerts with the group will be June 19th and 20th.
This is clearly Doug’s decision, with the more flexible schedule cited as a major factor. In the video, Doug explains that as his girls grow up, he wants to be a bigger part of their lives and have more control over when he can be off the road. This has motivated many a quartet man to step down, and with Doug’s popularity, it’s probably not a bad economic decision either. He also says jokingly that he hopes to “hop back on the bus” with Signature Sound at any time, and Ernie assures him that the corner bunk is always his. Ernie is clearly trying not to sound too bummed about the whole thing, but obviously he’s happy for Doug to pursue what’s best for him. Doug has been Ernie’s right-hand man and the glue of the group for about 13 years now, and it must be tough to see him go.
There are so many things I could say about how Doug’s voice and personality will be missed as a part of the Signature Sound unit. As I try to think about favorite performances, I realize there are so many that it’s hard to know where to start. He could own ballads as completely as up-tempo numbers, gritty soul as well as tender story songs. Very few singers command that kind of versatility.
It’s a testament to Doug’s talent that I’m going to reach all the way back to the beginning of his career for two favorite moments to showcase. One is the group’s old version of “Happy Rhythm,” which features one of my favorite Doug improvisations ever on the encore. The other, from that same concert, is his take on the standard on “Had It Not Been,” of which I have yet to hear a better version.
Heartiest best wishes to Doug for a blessed future and a fruitful career. Now, let the speculation about his replacement begin! Who do my readers favor? Personally, I think Andrew Goldman wouldn’t be a bad bet. He’s the only young singer I can think of who holds the potential to fill Doug’s shoes.
A harmony master class, as I will define it, is a preferably live exhibition of exceptionally good harmony singing. It can be from any genre, as long as it’s aesthetically pleasing. For my first installment, I’ve chosen Simon & Garfunkel’s collaborative guest appearance on the Andy Williams show. Williams often invited and sang with popular groups of his day (including other folk revivalist bands like Peter, Paul & Mary). Although Williams’s voice is heavier than Simon or Garfunkel’s, it’s remarkable how smoothly he blends in his tones with theirs. In the little intro clip, he recalls that he didn’t find it difficult to find his part, because he grew up practicing harmony singing with his brothers.
The piece is the legendary “Scarborough Fair,” here presented with the rarely heard, Simon-penned counterpoint tune “Canticle.” As you might be able to tell, the lyrics are rather flaky and anti-war (you can follow along here), but then that’s only to be expected. However, if you concentrate on the music, it’s quite exquisitely woven together with the folk song.
It might look a bit odd that Garfunkel appears to be staring very intently at Williams as they sit in a circle around a single microphone, but this is a practical choice. As I can confirm from personal experience, eye contact is especially important in synchronizing close harmony when you haven’t sung extensively with your singing partners.
An interesting detail is the way Paul shows off his upper range around 2:48, harmonizing above Williams while Garfunkel sings the counterpoint, then dips back under him for the next line. As a duo, Simon and Garfunkel would often cross their parts so that you could only tell by careful listening who was singing what at a given moment. Williams puts it well when describing the elegant simplicity of their sound: “You became mesmerized by it, by just that lack of things going on.”
Tony is pictured here furthest to the right in this rare cover with his face on it.
Recently it was announced that tenor singer Tony Jarman was stepping down from the Down East Boys. In my humble opinion, Jarman has never gotten enough attention for his voice. To be honest, I prefer it to some other much better-known tenors. It’s pure, warm and well-rounded, and it reminds me of the lead singer for 4Him. One of my favorite performances of his is the Poet Voices’ “One Holy Lamb.” His face doesn’t appear on most album covers for this project (or even the Youtube thumbnail below), because he left shortly after it was recorded, but it’s his voice on this number. Milan Klipa is the tenor featured in their live performances, like this one, but he’s not as rangey or powerful. In fact, you can hear him balking and pulling away from the notes Tony nails in the studio version. While several singers have tackled this standard, Tony’s version will remain the definitive in my book:
As promised, here is my review of the biography of child singing star Gloria Jean, written by Scott and Jan MacGillivray. The sub-title is A Little Bit of Heaven. Presumably this was chosen because That Awkward Moment When I Caught a Skin Rash From Bing Crosby, Mel Torme Proposed, and Donald O’Connor Hugged Me So Hard He Broke My Ribs would’ve run a tad long.
Although this isn’t an autobiography, Gloria is generously quoted from interviews conducted by the authors, so her own voice still comes through clearly. And what a treat it is! Gloria Jean is one of those people you’re not likely to have heard of. She never attained the legendary status of a Shirley Temple, and most of her work is out of print. But once you get to know her, you’re very glad you did.
For the last stretch of the summer, I’ve decided to spend the time that might otherwise have been wasted sleeping in, arguing with atheists on the Internet, surfing the Internet, etc., on reading and reviewing one good new book per week. Happily, I just popped in on a lovely little used bookstore the other week and picked up several good ‘uns. So I thought I might let you, my readers, take a peek at what I’m reading for the next few weeks. But since it seems half the country is on vacation right now, I decided to wait until next Friday to publish the first installment. All the books in my queue so far are non-fiction, mostly revolving around entertainment history, or in one case, military history. The two sections were right next to each other at the bookstore. It’s a wonder I dragged myself out of that place at all!
My first entry in this new little series will actually not be a used book purchase, but something I recently purchased new. It’s the biography of a forgotten child singing star from the same era as Shirley Temple and Deanna Durbin. Her name is Gloria Jean. This young lady was the original Jackie Evancho—a true prodigy. She was trained as a coloratura soprano from childhood on up and achieved worldwide fame through her facility with both classical and pop standards. Along the way, she rubbed shoulders with so many legendary show biz names it would make your head spin. And not just names only show biz buffs would recognize either. The book draws heavily from her own words and contains stories you won’t find anywhere else—funny stories, strange stories, and downright beautiful stories. It’s also a sober look at the less pleasant side of child stardom and show business in general, as the small-town girl rose to fame only to fall off the map again.
She has her own Youtube channel now and still interacts with fans via a website. Here she is introducing some vintage clips of her singing and acting, to whet your appetite and get you counting stars. Come back next Friday for the full review!
[Update: Brian has pointed out that Squire Parsons also recorded this song himself back in the 80s. If you’d like to hear that version for yet a third take, click here.]
Since some readers took offense at my appropriation of Steve Eaton’s “Smackdown” title for this series, I’ve given it a new name so as to accommodate everyone. :) Today, I’m taking a hot new track off the Ball Brothers’ release Pursuit (review scheduled for next week) and comparing it with an old acappella version by the Mullins. The song is “Who’s Gonna Stand in the Gap?” written by Squire Parsons. Squire’s songs consistently deliver for me. He just seems to knock it out of the park every time, and this resounding call to action is no exception. It’s like a contemporary “Dare to Be a Daniel,” exhorting Christians to stand proudly for God.
The Ball Brothers’ version is the standout track on their new project and pulls out all the stops for a big band swingfest, while the Mullins’ version is more soulful. I was happy to discover the album that the Mullins’ version comes from, Vocal Point. Classy acappella reminiscent of the Haven of Rest Quartet or Glad. You can listen to both versions on Spotify. Check out the Mullins here. Then check out the Ball Brothers here. Which do you prefer? To me, there is a clear winner, but I will let you be the judge!
A limited edition recording of the new Gaither Vocal Band has been leaked to Youtube. The report is that this table project will not be sold in any common retail outlets, so if you happen to grab a copy at a concert, congratulations! There’s no new material, just slightly different vocal arrangements over pre-existing tracks for songs like “My Lord and I,” “Why Me, Lord?” and “The Baptism of Jesse Taylor.” One of the songs being re-done is “Please Forgive Me?” Of course, this is a Crabb Family original, but the Gaither Vocal Band’s arrangement upped the vocal ante several notches. It’s interesting to hear Adam Crabb take over what has now become a Michael English signature tune.
Take a listen to the new lineup’s take on it. Update, July 31: Or don’t, now that the copyright police dogs have sniffed out and broken this link.
As an extra little bonus, here is some live footage of the current lineup on the dramatic breakdown:
Now refresh your memory on Michael English’s version. Which do you prefer?
For those who are weary of the pablum now paraded as “music” on the airwaves of mainstream and Christian music alike, I offer an alternative: Jean Watson, a gifted singer/songwriter who also happens to be a dear friend of mine. Her style is clear, contemplative CCM, much like Fernando Ortega. She is a classically trained singer and violinist, and she enjoys an active ministry both in America and in the U.K. On her two latest projects—one Christmas and one original worship—she has teamed up with some of the best talent in Nashville, including producer Bill Smiley (WhiteHeart, Steven Curtis Chapman, Johnny Cash, Bebe & Cece Winans, Gaither Vocal Band, 4Him, and more), drummer Steve Brewster (Bob Seger, Chicago, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Faith Hill, Richard Marx), and most excitingly, Phil Keaggy on a fresh arrangement of the carol “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Jean aims to help fund both records at once through a Kickstarter campaign she is calling “The Sound of Heaven.” She writes:
The greatest challenge for me in creating this project is simply financial. Whatever I have to pay towards the cost of production, manufacture, artwork, photography, travel, etc, etc, simply puts a burden on the ministry which provides the bulk of my income. I desire to be in a place where I am not hindered by any debt and can give away as much of my ministry proceeds as possible!
The total cost of ‘The Sound of Heaven Project’ is projected at approximately $40,000 which includes all expenses from start to finish. Kickstarter is a great way to raise funds for projects like this, but if I don’t raise the whole $14,000 that I am asking for to help me, I get nothing! Kickstarter will help me meet as many of those expenses as possible so I can focus on MINISTRY, not money! :)
Reading the numbers closely should impress upon us all just how difficult it is to be an independent artist in today’s economy. As you can see, this Kickstarter campaign won’t cover half of her costs even if it’s successful. But it will be a significant help. Click here to back her project, and if you want to hear her music, you should go to her website. The soundtrack to the promo video is music by Hillsong, not Jean. Here is one of her original songs:
Last year’s American Idol recently paid a guest visit to this year’s stage. This is the first time I got a really good listen to her voice, and I have to say: wow. Her new album just dropped at the end of last month. Candice Glover, everyone! It’s just too bad she’s going into R&B and not gospel. What a voice. One wonders if the judges were thinking, “Shoot, do we have any finalists this year who even come close?” Try to ignore the dumb graphics on song two. (My preferred solution is to focus intently on Keith Urban’s head-bobbing.)
I know I said at the beginning of my 12 Essential Tracks of Christmas that I would provide a list of 12 more tracks that missed the cut. But since the series didn’t generate that many views, I thought I would dive right back into our regular programming instead, because I suspect y’all are ready to rotate Christmas music out of your mixes right about now. I have to admit that I am too. But feel free to e-mail if you would like to see the list. :)
I wanted to take a moment to pay tribute to a young trio that recently disbanded after nearly four years in the business. That group is Promise Trio. The pressures of personality, life on the road, and making a profit in a rocky economy doubtless all contributed to the various group changes and the final decision to dissolve. I thought Promise had great potential from day one and remained consistently excellent for the group’s brief lifespan. It was originally founded as Statement of Faith by Jacob Kitson, who stepped down from Greater Vision at Chris Allman’s return. He, brother Joe and baritone Jon Epley (who just had a fantastic year with the Inspirations and now sings bass for them), recorded just one CD in 2010 before Epley was snapped up by the legendary group. However, the song “Masterpiece of Mercy” would later land on a Booth Brothers recording. Youtuber cbcacs has some good footage of a concert by this lineup. Continue reading